Knee Injury and Pain in Yoga

By Niki Vetten

Knee injury in yoga usually involves tearing the Meniscus, a double ring of cartilage between the Femur (thighbone) and the Tibia (lower leg bone) – either through carelessness – by practicing asanas with the feet and the knees pointing in different directions, or in Padmasana. It is also possible to overstretch the supporting ligaments at the sides of the knees. People also experience pain behind the knee, on the outer side of the knee, on the inner side below the knee or around the Patella (kneecap) itself.

Knee pain should never be ignored, in the hope that it will go away – the causes need to be investigated and dealt with before attempting any asanas that are painful. It is also highly risky to practice when there is swelling around the knees because swelling inhibits stabilisation by the muscles attached to the Patella and can lead to injury. Students and teachers should take care to avoid this kind of injury because the majority of Meniscus tears require surgery and rarely heal by themselves because the blood supply to cartilage is very limited. Knee problems are complex because some kinds of knee pain comes from an actual injury to knee structures like the meniscus or ligaments, but most other knee pain is caused by instability of the hips, which can cause structural damage in the knee.

The Gluteus Medius is the main stabiliser of the pelvis and if it is weak the pelvis tilts to the side when standing on one leg, while the knee tends to sway inwards when it is bent, putting pressure on knee structures. Hip muscle imbalances also creates rotational stress which can cause injury in Padmasana. This is explained in more detail in Knees and Padmasana

The relationship between the hips and the knees is explained in more detail in How Hip Problems Cause Knee Pain and for more information on the Gluteus Medius, please read Lateral Pelvic Tilt in Yoga Practice

Another source of knee pain are the Quadricep muscles, this pain occurs mostly around the kneecap and in asanas like Virasana and is detailed in Pain at the Kneecap

Reading sources: Ellenbecker, De Carlo, DeRosa, 2009, Effective Functional Progressions in Sport Rehabilitation Sports Injury Bulletin: Meniscal Tears Sports Injury Bulletin: Knee Rehabilitation Sports Injury Bulletin: Popliteus

Author: Niki Vetten

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Visit Niki’s Website: Yoga Anatomy for the Perplexed

Here are some of the other articles posted here by Nikki Vetten:
  • Lateral Pelvic Tilt in Yoga Practice March 9, 2013 By Niki Vetten When the hips are can’t be held level in a horizontal plane while standing on one leg, lateral pelvic tilt occurs, caused by weakness of the Hip abductor muscles, especially the Gluteus Medius. The pelvis tilts down to one side and the head of the Femur is pushed outwards. This is called Trendelenburg ...
  • Neck Pain from the Hips March 12, 2013 By Niki Vetten Posture affects our necks negatively when there is anterior or posterior pelvic tilt because the spinal curves are altered and the head is carried in a forward position. The muscle at the front of the neck, the Sternocleidomastoideus (SCM) shortens and the shoulder girdle rounds and shifts forward, exaggerating the curvature of the ...
  • Pain at the Kneecap March 9, 2013 By Niki Vetten Knee pain that occurs around the kneecap is usually called Patellofemoral pain and can be caused by tightness in the Rectus Femoris muscle or an imbalance between the Quadricep muscles that stabilise the patella. One way that this occurs is through weakness of the Gluteus Medius in the hip. The Tensor Fascia Latae ...
  • Practising Through Pain and Injury in Yoga March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten Many athletes and many athletic yogis who experience pain believe that they should keep right on with what they are doing, and hope that the pain will eventually disappear. This is very short-sighted, especially if pain is not associated with a specific injury. Pain without a specific injury is often a sign of muscle ...
  • Back Flexibility with Yoga March 11, 2013 By Niki Vetten As we get older our spines bend less, mostly because of the effects of gravity on the spinal discs, which begin to dehydrate and become compressed after 30, reducing the spaces between the facet joints in the vertebrae and limiting movement. Gravity and an upright human posture also causes some the spinal muscles ...
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